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When doing palatography, one needs something to paint the tongue with. It is usually a mixture of olive/sunflower oil and powdered charcoal. The question is, what can this substance be called? Is it a colouring, paint or/and dye? What is the most suitable word?

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    The best way to learn words specific to a particular field or industry is to ask someone who works in it. So ask a palatographist, or read a website about it.
    – Barmar
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 20:09
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    @Barmar thanks for the comment. That's true, of course, but I'm interested in what word even a non-specialist would use for such mixture.
    – Aer
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 20:11
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    If you hadn't explained it, I wouldn't even know what palatography was, and I consider myself to have a very large vocabulary. I doubt most people outside the field have even considered what this word would be.
    – Barmar
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 20:13

3 Answers 3

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I would call it "a special non-toxic paint" (harmless if swallowed).

It was looking for what to call a mixture of oil plus pigment that gets "painted" onto the person's tongue and palate. Dye is permanent or semi-permanent as it penetrates fibers. Colo(u)rings change the color of a substance when mixed into the substance. Paint is a coating. So paint is an accurate name for it, and to make clear that it's not off-the-shelf house-paint, I called it "non-toxic".

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  • That's not what the OP is after: they want to know what the type of mixture is. If you think it is paint, please explain why.
    – Joachim
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 9:44
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    @Joachim You're wrong about what OP wants. To quote a comment left by OP above: " I'm interested in what word even a non-specialist would use for such mixture." And have you ever read standard dicitionary definitions of "paint".(as distinct from some scientific definition)? They are usually extremely basic requiring no "explanation": a "colored substance" that is "spread over a surface". So that is why I called it "paint". And even the palatography sites use the verb "paint". So of all answers I've ever given on SE, this one requires the least "explanation".
    – TimR
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 11:27
  • I wasn't asking what 'paint' means, but why you think that was the best out of the given options, which would benefit your answer. And maybe "type of mixture" was not the right way to phrase it, but my point was that "non-toxic" was not a logical answer to what I assumed the question was, hence my remark.
    – Joachim
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 18:25
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    I know the question wasn't asking what paint means. Where are you getting the idea that that is what I thought? It was looking for what to call a mixture of oil plus pigment that gets "painted" onto the person's tongue and palate. Dye is permanent or semi-permanent as it penetrates fibers. Colo(u)rings change the color of a substance when mixed into the substance. paint is a coating. So paint is an accurate name for it, and to make clear that it's not off-the-shelf house-paint, I called it "non-toxic". You haven't indicated a context for you question. Who needs to be told?
    – TimR
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 18:36
  • I never thought you thought it did. And that comment is kind of what I was after with my first comment: a clarification, a reasoning. So, perfect.
    – Joachim
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 18:43
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A one word term for this is perhaps not available. However, there are several sources of which three are mentioned below that mention the two-word term "coloring agent" (BrE: colouring agent), but no other.

  • Wikipedia: It involves painting a coloring agent, such as a dye or a mixture of charcoal and olive oil on the tongue or the roof of a person's mouth and having that person pronounce a specific sound.

  • Wiktionary: A technique used to identify which parts of the mouth are used when making a certain sound, by painting a colouring agent on the tongue or roof of a subject's mouth and photographing those areas after the subject has pronounced the sound.

  • University of Sheffield: Palatography involves using a colouring agent (such as dye) on a speaker’s tongue or the roof of their mouth to identify which part of the mouth is used when producing different sounds. This method has been extensively used at UCLA.

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  • Thank you! The latter example uses the word dye; maybe that's a good choice.
    – Aer
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 20:53
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    @Aer Two of the sources I quote say "such as a dye", which means that "dye" is not the most general term. Moreover, the mixture of olive oil and charcoil, as mentioned in the first reference, would not be a dye, while it still is a coloring agent.
    – LPH
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 21:06
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    A dye is a specific type of colouring chemical that chemically bonds with the substrate. If it doesn't do that, it's not a dye.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 9:06
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"Coloring" and "dyes" implies you are applying the substance specifically to color the surface.

"Painting" might be better because it describes the action (like stroking with a brush).

Possibly, "coating" may be the better word choice.

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